I’ve been following the controversy around sexual harassment issues at skeptic and atheist conferences for the last couple of months now, in ever-increasing horror. How this came to be seen as a big deal to so many people on the anti-harassment policy side, I have no fucking idea, but I want to talk about one aspect of it I haven’t seen touched on much, just to put things in some perspective.
Whenever controversy around harassment happens, all the “What About The Men” characters seem to zero in on the idea that policies dealing with harassment will prevent anyone from having sex or even flirting. This is wrong. In fact, I suspect exactly the opposite is true: effective harassment policies enable people to be comfortable enough with whatever level of sexual interaction they are interested in (if any), from flirting to sex.
Sexual harassment policies are about preventing unwanted sexual advances. They are not about preventing wanted sexual advances. Thunderf00t’s story about biting a woman’s leg, for example? Completely irrelevant to the issue, because the woman herself expressed that it was entirely consensual. Sexual harassment policies come into play when a person feels something nonconsensual was happening, and reports it. Unless this woman felt a need to report the event in question, which she obviously didn’t, a harassment policy would’ve had no effect whatsoever. Zero. Nada. Zilch.
Again, sexual harassment policies are about preventing unwanted sexual advances. And here’s the thing: when unwanted sexual advances are a problem, it’s more likely that even wanted sexual advances will be treated warily.
In a nutshell: the key to having an event where people open to sex are comfortable with sexual advances is having an event where there are policies in place to prevent inappropriate sexual advances (read: harassment policies).
Harassment policies, properly implemented, are only a threat to the sex lives of predators. That’s why they all talk about reporting “harassment”, not reporting “two people being all adorably flirty over there”.
Anyone who’s ever been to a BDSM event probably knows this incredibly well. You want an example of proof that harassment policies don’t ruin opportunities for fun and sex? Attend a BDSM event. Most of them, literally, have safewords that you can shout at any time for any reason and designated staff will come over to you and (if necessary forcibly) stop whatever is going on. No checking to see if it’s “really” inappropriate, no forms to fill out. Whatever you are doing, and whoever you are doing it with, it gets stopped. There is no harassment policy at any skeptic event that goes this far (which makes sense, given the context).
And yet, as you might imagine, sex happens all the time at these kink events. All kinds of sex. I’ve been to plenty of kink events where people have been literally (safely and consensually) set on fire. I’ve experienced it myself in fact. The harassment policies did not prevent that from happening, they enabled it. They made me and other people feel safe enough to allow it to happen.
I’ll say that again: the existence of policies dealing with harassment and safety made me comfortable enough that I was willing to let someone douse a part of my body in cool-burning alcohol and set it on fire.
You can think that makes me crazy or not, but the point is this: policies that deal with harassment and safety enable fun. They don’t stop it from happening. They help make it so people who want to have fun feel comfortable enough to have whatever type of it they want to have, whether it’s listening to speakers, socializing, having sex, or whatever else.
If you want to have sex at conferences, and you are arguing against having harassment policies, then you are either (a) working against yourself, or (b) a predator.